The publication in 1882 of this classic book by “The Dean of American Letters” marked his transition from magazine editor and author of some mildly received comedies of manners, to leading American novelist and champion of realism in American literature. The story of Bartley Hubbard, a philandering, dishonest Boston journalist, and Marcia Gaylord, the wife who divorces him, is the first serious treatment of divorce in American literature. Although Howells had considered writing the novel for years, the actual composition of it brought forth another theme besides that of divorce—that of new journalism. Yet these two innovative and powerful themes are no more than vehicles for Howells’s real achievement—the perceptive delineation of contemporary American character, conditions in American culture, and the acute dislocations in ethical sensibility that fray the social fabric.
Bartley was still free as air; but if he could once make up his mind to settle down in a hole like Equity he could have her by turning his hand.